For those of you who were wanting some comment on the Simpson trial, he's
a whole string of it, courtesy of our colleagues over on H-RHETOR.
Forwarded message: Kirt Wilson, Northwestern University
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No doubt most of us are weary of the Simpson saga; however, the
verdict of yesterday raises too many rhetorical questions to be
ignored. Reading the NY Times this morning, I was fascinated by the
many and varied explanations for the verdict. It seems as though
everyone is searching for meaning and creating, through language,
explanative motives. The situation is compounded, no doubt, by the
jury's initial decision to keep its reasoning private. (Now there's
an interesting rhetorical choice). Several thoughts have struck me,
and I would be interested in the perspectives of others.
Whether created by the media or "natural" within the polis--as if
it were possible to distinguish one from the other (situation from
the mediated creation of situation)--most people are talking about
this verdict through polarizations (why?). There are three ratios
that seem to dominate public discussion.
1) By far, to my reading, the lead ratio is about race (i.e. black
- white). In this ratio, employed both by African Americans and
Anglo-Americans, justice or injustice is determined by concerns
that transcend the evidence. For what seems like a majority of
African Americans "its about racism." As John Thomas was quoted in
the NYTimes, "Today, racism took a solid blow" (A12). Although
less vocal--or at least less direct--a negative interpretation
voiced by Anglo-Americans involves questions like: Did Cochran play
the race card, and was the jury swayed by "emotion" rather than
"reason" (another revealing ratio)?
2) A second ratio that is not as loud but which may grow again
involves the issue of sexual abuse and violence (i.e. female-male).
In this ratio, attributed by the media to women primarily,
judgments about whether justice prevailed tend toward concerns that
are again not particular. This ratio perceives the verdict as
problematic because it sends the wrong signal to society in general
and men specifically. As Ms. Shaw put it, "All the husbands can
go and beat their wives now" (A13).
3) The third major ratio to emerge in the early moments of this
public interaction involves economic inequity (i.e. poor - rich).
Within this ratio, discussed again by many, justice or injustice is
linked to the atemporal truth that power and influence are tied to
monetary resources. As the cynical Mr. Smith declared, "Now O.J.'s
really going to get rich." (A13).
There are several dimensions of this discourse that I find interesting, but
this post is long already so I'll wrap it up with one final comment. What
does this drama say about rhetorical practice in America today? What I find
especially striking is that in each of these ratios public discussion--or at
least this mediated form of discussion--has moved well beyond the case to the
arena of social norms, values, and assumptions. Perhaps this is instructive.
The O.J. Simpson trial, despite or perhaps because of its sensationalism, may
represent the type of rhetorical praxis that dominates contemporary society.
How do you read this rhetoric?
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